The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) has recognized the Commission’s competence to reject the European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI), entitled “One of us”, whose petition was “to prohibit and put an end to the financing, by the European Union, of activities that involve the destruction of human embryos (in particular in the areas of research, development aid, and public health), including direct or indirect funding of abortion”.
The ECI in question fulfilled all the requirements for its presentation to the Commission for debate and was one of four initiatives that have qualified. It was endorsed by nearly two million signatures from citizens from different EU countries and submitted to the European Commission in 2012 for examination and assessment.
The Commission reported its decision in May 2014, announcing its refusal to promote a regulation rejecting the destruction of embryos. The organizers of the ECI then sought the annulment of the Commission’s report before the General Court of the European Union, claiming, inter alia, that “the Commission is obliged to submit a proposal for an EU legal act in response to a registered ECI”. The General Court upheld the Commission’s decision.
A petition endorsed by nearly two million signatures from citizens from different EU countries is rejected by European Court
The same organizers again appealed the General Court’s decision before the CJEU, which now restates its denial. The CJEU ruling states that under Article 11 of the Maastricht Treaty, paragraph 4, “an ECI is designed to ‘invite’ the Commission […] to submit an appropriate proposal for the purpose of implementing the Treaties, and not to oblige the Commission to take the action or actions envisaged by the ECI”.
In the judgment, the Court of Justice recalls that “the power of legislative initiative conferred on the Commission by the Treaties means that it is for the Commission to decide whether or not to submit a proposal for a legislative act, except in the situation where it has an obligation under EU law to do so”. The Court of Justice also emphasized that the fact that the Commission is not obliged to adopt measures in response to an ECI does not mean that this initiative is deprived of effectiveness.
In conclusion, the Court of Justice has corroborated “the reasoning followed by the General Court in holding that the Commission, relying on a World Health Organisation publication, had not committed any manifest error in considering that EU funding of a number of safe and effective health services, including abortion services, contributed to a reduction in the number of unsafe abortions and, therefore, the risk of maternal mortality and maternal illnesses” (see HERE).
The ECI mechanism is one of the instruments of participatory democracy which complemented, on the adoption of the Treaty of Lisbon, the system of representative democracy on which the functioning of the Union is based, with the objective of encouraging the participation of citizens in the democratic process and promoting dialogue between citizens and the EU institutions. Furthermore, an ECI registered in accordance with Regulation No 211/2011 and which complies with all the procedures and requirements laid down in this Regulation creates a series of specific obligations for the Commission, set out in Articles 10 and 11 of that Regulation. According to the Court of Justice, the particular added value of the ECI mechanism does not, therefore, reside in the certainty of an outcome, but in the avenues and opportunities, it opens for Union citizens to be able to initiate a debate on policy within the EU institutions without waiting for the commencement of a legislative process.